As an examination of a recent bond deal illustrates, the Delaware River Port Authority has many constituencies. That the commuting public is among them is largely a matter of faith. So a new effort to curb the bistate bridge and rail agency's powers and strengthen its oversight is appropriate.
It's at least encouraging that unlike much of the DRPA's borrowing over the past decade, a $487 million bond issue in December actually raised funds for the infrastructure that is supposed to be its raison d'être. But a close look at the nearly $2 million in fees the DRPA paid to lawyers and banks as part of the deal reveals a wealth of personal and political connections that raise familiar questions about the agency's motives.
While the total cost of the fees was not unusual, no fewer than five law firms got a piece of the deal, as The Inquirer's Paul Nussbaum reported, including a pair of "special counsels." And all of them have clear connections to the politicians and power brokers who ultimately control the agency.
Meanwhile, although Citigroup Global Markets ranked second in the DRPA's analysis of underwriters, the bank got the top spot and fee. The company's managing director and cohead of Mid-Atlantic public finance also happens to be the brother-in-law of the DRPA's general counsel.
Former New Jersey Gov. Jim Florio, a partner in one of the law firms involved in the sale, wanly observed that in this business, "Relationships are important."
But certain relationships remain a little too important at the DRPA. So there is a strong case for the reform package proposed last week by Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, a Democrat who holds a seat on the DRPA board, along with Republican lawmakers from both Harrisburg and Trenton. The legislation should go further - by requiring competitive bidding of bond deals, for example, and restricting the awarding of contracts to political contributors. But the proposed bill would help the DRPA improve what should be its most important relationship: the one with the people who pay its fares and tolls.